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Mark Kozelek 

What's Next to the Moon (Badman)

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
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Comedy albums have always been risky purchases. Because jokes lose a little oomph on the second go-round, recordings by comedians usually have the longevity of a fruit fly: You listen to them once or twice and then file them away forever.

The latest CD by Red House Painters frontman Mark Kozelek is not a comedy record per se, but it is built around a punch line. The joke: What do you get when you cross a melancholy indie singer with 10 AC/DC covers? Answer: What's Next to the Moon.

OK, so it's not a very good punch line. And it was made even less so by the fact that Kozelek telegraphed it on last year's Rock 'n' Roll Singer EP, which contained three of the songs on the new album, albeit different versions. As is often the case with gag-based records, the shtick worked a lot better when the novelty was high.

Not that Kozelek's acoustic readings of AC/DC are bad. By turning songs of sex and ego into songs of love, Kozelek occasionally intensifies the crazy energy of the originals. His earnest, open voice carries enough authority to make hackneyed lines like "So won't you all come along with me/ And I'll show you how fun bad can be" feel unsettlingly lifelike. Kozelek's quiet delivery adds a raw, clean sexuality to the unctuous bravado of the headbanging tunes.

Also to Kozelek's credit, What's Next to the Moon is unironically appreciative of Angus Young and company. But just because Kozelek takes his AC/DC covers painfully seriously doesn't make the album any less of a joke. Apart from a few standouts ("Love at First Feel," "Bad Boy Boogie," "You Ain't Got a Hold on Me"), the songs just can't overcome their source material. It takes more than a pretty voice to pull off 10 numbers encumbered by such lyrics as "Take off your high heels, let down your hair/ Paradise ain't far from there."

That kind of horny high school poetry ultimately renders What's Next to the Moon a pleasant but inessential listen. It's reminiscent of an old Wisconsin dairy farming joke that Kozelek might do well to remember. Question: What do you call a beautiful sculpture made of cheese? Answer: Cheese.

Now that's a punch line.

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Chris Baty

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